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Kenta Maeda Throws 2 Scoreless Innings Despite Hearing Calls

Kenta Maeda Throws 2 Scoreless Innings Despite Hearing Calls

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Maeda was one of the hottest pitchers in the majors before Tommy John surgery ended his 2020 season prematurely. Now he's back pitching after a 17-month recovery period.

He's also pitched two scoreless innings, which is an encouraging development for a veteran starter who had a 4.40 ERA and 23.6% strikeout rate before his injury.

1. Maeda threw two scoreless innings

Kenta Maeda is back in the rotation, but he's not quite there yet. After not throwing a competitive pitch since 2021 and with velocity still not up to par, Maeda hopes to gradually increase his velocity this spring and reach at least 92-93 mph with his fastball.

Maeda made his first start since returning from Tommy John surgery last October and pitched two scoreless innings, striking out two Rays while allowing just a hit and no runs as the Dodgers easily defeated the Rays 4-1 on Saturday. In total, 13 pitches were thrown over 13 pitches in the first inning - only one hit allowed - but Maeda would go on to complete two scoreless frames thereafter.

Maeda's win was his second in a row, as he has had difficulty maintaining control and was often giving up long balls early this season. Additionally, he's walked more than he struck out and hasn't had much luck against left-handed hitters.

Maeda's return from extended absences isn't without limitations, but they still raise questions about his status as a starter in 2023. One model predicts he'll make an impressive comeback as starter; on the other hand, one model worries about injury limitations and projects only three starts from the bullpen this season.

Steamer anticipates Maeda to start 24 games in 2023 and projects him to pitch 150 innings. They also estimate Maeda with 1.4 wins above replacement, which is quite respectable for a starter coming off Tommy John surgery.

Maeda's career average of 2.4 wins above replacement is still well below his current mark, but it's an encouraging start for him as he was recently named King of the Twins Rotation in 2020. Beyond his dominance as a starter, Maeda boasts an impressive record against right-handed hitters - including a no-hitter through eight innings last August.

Maeda's outstanding start against the Rays sealed a 4-0 victory for Los Angeles, who held San Diego to one run in all 27 innings of their series. This streak is an all-time high in franchise history and an important step in their bid to regain top honors in the National League West.

2. Maeda threw a 92-mph fastball

Kenta Maeda threw two scoreless innings to start his Grapefruit League season, despite hearing complaints of "it's cold here" and "I'm hunched over my back." The Japanese right-hander avoided the middle of the plate with all but a few late pitches. His fastball velocity hovered around 90 mph, while he also mixed in his slider and splitter pitches.

Maeda's primary three-pitch mix remains unchanged this year, but he's been throwing more of his best pitches against both left- and right-handed batters. In 2019, he threw 766 sliders to righties and 629 to lefties; conversely, he only threw 577 changeups and 506 pitches to righties this past year.

Maeda's success has been a major boost, taking him from being an average starter to one of baseball's most promising young pitchers. His CSW rate has improved, his xwOBA has gone up, and both ZiPS and Steamer projection models predict his per-pitch numbers will be close to those before injury (ZiPS slightly higher than Steamer).

He's throwing his four-seam fastball more frequently in the first half of 2020, which is a promising sign. His ERA has dropped from 4.21 to 3.50, his strikeouts have gone up, and he's still throwing over 100 pitches per start.

Maeda's pitch selection has been the key factor this season, and he's made some tweaks to his game. In the first half of 2019, 89.7% of his changeups came against lefties; however, in the second half of 2020 he began throwing it more frequently against righties while mixing in more righties into his batters' repertoires.

Maeda's command has also improved, and he's become more patient when throwing pitches. His strikeout rate remains around 22% and he is getting better contact on his fastball which helps explain why Maeda's ERA has come down.

Maeda's final six appearances last October featured fewer than 75 pitches per appearance and allowed just two runs on five hits and four walks over seven innings, despite facing five right-handed hitters and one lefty in the National League Division Series.

3. Maeda threw a 93-mph fastball

Los Angeles Dodgers may be the best team in baseball, but they still have a long way to go before winning a championship. One thing they do have is Kenta Maeda - an aggressive right-handed pitcher with plenty of potential in the rotation.

Maeda has made an amazing comeback in his second half this year, turning around his season from a challenging start caused by hip strain. Additionally, he's added a pitch to his arsenal that has played a major role in this remarkable progress.

His new changeup has been particularly effective, being thrown to more left-handed batters than righties and leading to an impressive whiff rate. It's a pitch that has never fooled batters quite like this before - which makes it such an exciting addition to the Dodgers' rotation.

Maeda's success can be attributed to his willingness not to hold back with his slider. That has allowed him to utilize both of them more frequently than previous years, something we haven't seen him do before.

He also threw more fastballs, which helped reduce his walk rate to 2.8% in two starts - not bad at all for a starter. Furthermore, the increased ground balls due to this trend are worth noting as well.

Maeda has shown signs of progress with his changeup, so it's not unreasonable to imagine him joining the Dodgers' opening day roster in 2023. Steamer projects Maeda to start 24 games for fantasy owners while ZiPS predicts him for 150 innings of work.

Maeda's numbers aren't spectacular, but they give him a predicted WAR of 1.4 - which is impressive for someone returning from Tommy John surgery. That being said, Maeda should still not be your go-to fantasy starter.

Maeda has thrown an impressive number of strikes and displayed great poise, making him a great option for the Dodgers if they are serious about winning a championship. If he can keep throwing like he has in his first two starts, Maeda will be an integral piece in helping the team reach its objectives.

4. Maeda threw a 97-mph fastball

On Saturday, Kenta Maeda made his spring debut, throwing 13 pitches in a scoreless inning while allowing one hit and striking out. This marked the first time he had thrown an effective fastball since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021.

Maeda is expected to start for Minnesota in the starting rotation, but there are some concerns about his control. He has thrown too many center-cut sliders this year which have been missed.

Maeda has seen his walk rate increase and strikeout rate decrease, leading to an average of 6.11 ERA through 17.2 innings.

This season, his numbers have gone down due to not throwing enough fastballs.

Pitchers who want to throw a 95 mph fastball must possess excellent command over their release of the ball, along with good hand-eye coordination and an arm that is strong enough.

Fortunately, mastering this skill isn't that hard. Babe Ruth was able to throw a 95 mph fastball with great success, so there's no reason Maeda can't either.

Maeda has maintained control of his fastball, though it isn't as consistent as before. Now his slider and splitter are part of Maeda's arsenal.

This means he's now better able to mix his pitches, which should lead to greater success in the long run. Expect him to return to his Cy Young-winning ways soon enough.

He still has work to do in the second half, but if he can continue throwing fastballs with consistency and improve his control, then he should be able to maintain his momentum for a strong season.

Maeda's control is in question, but there can be no doubt that he is an effective starter who could provide fantasy managers with valuable options in deeper mixed leagues. With Maeda being a potential top-100 option for most teams in this league, it will be important to monitor him carefully throughout the season.

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